US firms keep footing in Asia despite ‘America First’ calls


The US companies operating in Malaysia are not influenced by Donald Trump’s prism of “America First” and will continue to invest in the region, which have for decades contributed billions in revenues for these American multinationals.

US President Trump has been preaching his “America First” mantra, a protectionist policy to influence US and companies from other nations to create jobs in America. To induce companies to return to the US, Trump has offered tax incentives for companies which set up their manufacturing operation in America.

Trump had also imposed new taxes for imported products that jeopadise jobs in the world’s largest economy, recently slapping tariffs for imported solar panels and washing machines.

American Malaysian Chamber of Commerce ED Siobhan Das said many of the 400 American companies in Malaysia had not only maintained their presence, but reinvested in the country despite the exit of disk manufacturer Seagate International plc in 2016.

“What we are seeing are just natural movements of companies shifting what is being put in Malaysia as the country moves up the value chain.

“While there has been a lot of news about Seagate leaving Malaysia, many others have not.

“The Coca-Cola Co is building another large facility here. Boston Scientific Corp just opened their facility up north last week. Honeywell International Inc and Boardcom Ltd are also moving their regional offices here. So, I see it in a very positive light,” Das told The Malaysian Reserve.

The US continued to be one of Malaysia’s largest trading partners last year, second only to China and the European Union. Total trade between the two countries amounted to RM22.1 billion in 2017, a 16.3% increase compared to 2016.

Das said despite concerns about the US seems to move away from Asia, the facts show growing confidence of American companies towards Asia.

“The figures speak for itself. Companies have a long history in many parts of the region and they want to be involved in what has been coined as the Asian century.

“Exxon Mobil Corp celebrated its 50th anniversary in Malaysia recently. Intel Corp has been here for 45 years and Coca-Cola has been around for 80 years. So, there are some deep roots in the country.

“I don’t see any one of them taking out and leaving after they have put in a lot of investments here and enjoy a good relationship with the country,” she said.

US investments are spread across several key industries in Malaysia, including the electrical and electronics, oil and gas and healthcare.

Das expects future investments will remain in these sectors, albeit on value-added ventures.

“I think investments will be less labour-intensive and more on higher value-added services such as research and developments, and design as Malaysia moves up the value chain.

“US companies have been investing a lot in the training of the people in Malaysia and I don’t think that is going to change soon. That has been the shift, and a welcomed shift,” Das said.

Malaysia will host the first Asia Pacific Council of American Chambers of Commerce (APCAC) Business Summit on April 4-5 this year, with the theme, “Charting a Bold Future: US Businesses in the Asian Century”.

The two-day summit will see the coming together of executives from major corporations, high-level government representatives, academia and policy experts from around the region to discuss ways on how the US can participate in the projected growth of Asia.

APCAC represents 15,000 companies and 10 million employees belonging to 29 American Chambers of Commerce across the Asia Pacific and more than US$1 trillion (RM3.9 trillion) worth of trade in the region every year.